3 scary tech spooks and how to protect yourself

In this technology-dependent world, it’s no surprise we often come into contact with many threats and scams, but you don’t have to fall victim to them. Check out the top 3 tech spooks I’ve had to deal with, and my recommendations for safeguarding yourself against them.

Several years ago, my parents traveled to California from Arizona and rented an apartment through a real-estate agency to stay for the whole summer. The rental application, it turned out, was in paper form. They had to include their driver’s license number, social security number, and other pieces of very personal information in order to complete the application. For people like me and you, that would be an instant red flag. But for people who are 70+ years old, they don’t think that they shouldn’t trust this method of applying for a rental home.

Sure enough, my parents soon found out their identity had been stolen by people on the other side of the world. Their information was being used to apply for credit cards and make expenditures and it was a long road to try to repair damage and re-secure their information.

This true tale shows how no user is safe from cyberattack, no matter their background or expertise—or connections to others with expertise. Security online begins with a basic understanding of how you’re at risk as well as protecting personal identity the same way you would company data. At Experts-Exchange we’ve been telling tales of scary tech experiences and how we solved them, to broaden the community understanding of these issues. It got me thinking about the scariest tech spooks I’ve dealt with in my personal life.

Tech spook 1: breach of identity

As mentioned in the above story, identity theft happens, and it’s happened to those close to me. Chances are it’s happened to people close to you, as well. In the recent Equifax breach, the number of people affected by the hack equals almost every individual with a credit report—that could mean you.

Breach of identity occurs because of a lack of appropriate education across all age groups. In the case of my parents, I began to wonder how the elderly are informed about these scams. There are always news stories on the nightly news or popping up in news feeds and email blasts, but are older folks listening to them?

The same can be send of the younger age groups, like millennials, who grew up in a time of public oversharing. They may not realize that with each public post announcing a birthday, disclosing personal information like the car they drive or where they live, they become a prime—and easy—target for digital identity theft.

Solution: Be careful what you share online and with whom. Make yourself take notice of secure websites and servers and sign up for a well-known newsletter or news alert to stay up to date with these topics and new threats. Sign up for free alerts from groups like Credit Karma who can notify you of unauthorized credit checks or unusual activity with your personal information. And remember: if it feels like a scam, it probably is.

Tech spook 2: passwords and PINs

Recently, I listed an item for sale on Craigslist. I entered into a conversation with someone who seemed interested in purchasing my wares, at least until they sent me the message that read, “Yes, please transfer money. What is your account number?” Not even a subtle trick, but it happened nonetheless.

This scammer was trying to gain access to my accounts, and it’s a trap many first-time or unsuspecting Craigslist vendors probably fall victim to. This problem is easily avoidable by never entering into a digital financial transaction with a party you do not know, by non-secure or non-reputable means.

This approach is not always direct and overt. Sometimes your passwords and PINs can be hacked, especially on unsecured wireless networks as we learned last week with the Krack Attack that enables hackers to “eavesdrop” on your data and activity in situations where you’re used to feeling safe—connected to WiFi.

Solution: Make sure to protect your banking passwords and PINs by keeping them off accessible devices, use VPNs or secure networks when transferring money or sharing personal information. Set up notifications from your bank or credit card. Many institutions allow you to specify notifications according to dollar amount spent, ATM withdrawals, and when transactions are online and not in person. That way you instantly know when fraudulent activity takes place.

Tech spook 3: phone scams

When you get a call from a local number, what do you usually do? If you said, “answer it”, you’d be correct. After all it could be a doctor’s office, your child’s school, or a business contact whose number you don’t have saved. But, if you’re like me, you’ve been leery by this of late because the local number often turns out to be a part of the Google phone scam. In this scam, when you answer, you’re asked to enter a 2-digit pin or sometimes answer “Yes” so that they get your voice recorded and can use it in identity theft purchases.

Sometimes phone scammers also use your phone number when calling others for malicious purposes, called “spoofing.” This proves that as consumers we’re giving our phone numbers to way too many services, companies, and people. This can blacklist for your phone, as well, which can be bad if you use your personal number for business.

Solution: Even if you like to talk on the phone, be careful when answering a call from an unknown number. The Federal Trade Commission even provides great advice and insight into phone scams for awareness when you’re on a call as well as how to protect yourself from repeat offenses. To secure your phone number from any spoofing attempts, practice common sense when asked to give out your phone number. If it’s not necessary to sign up for a new account or something of that sort, then it isn’t necessary to part with that information.

Copyright © 2017 IDG Communications, Inc.

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